Why did this sight move me so deeply? Because the Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, and the giant redwood trees overlooking San Francisco Bay might all have conceivably come into being as the result of a lengthy process of random, unaided materialistic evolution. Primeval winds and wild rivers might have shaped canyons and mountains while undisturbed saplings grew and grew. But a colossal hub of millions of human beings all cooperating to build and maintain Manhattan with its buildings and bridges, its streets and subways and its unimaginably vast system of human enterprise could only have been built by creatures touched by the finger of God. I was immeasurably moved realizing that I was gazing upon the proof of God’s goodness.
Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flocks…(Numbers 32:24)
And the people of Shinar, long before they laid out fields and established farms had to build a city? Really? (Genesis 11:4)
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that whenever Scripture mentions a city it is teaching us that a new culture is being introduced. This idea is not without modern precedent. When the Australians began to see themselves as an independent nation early in the 20th century, they set about building their new capital city of Canberra where no city existed and where almost no people dwelled. Fifty years later, Brazil did the same thing, building the capital city Brasilia, not in response to any growing local population but to attract a population. Of course today both Canberra and Brasilia are large and thriving cities.
Thus when the Children of Israel were anticipating their arrival into their own land for the first time ever, building cities was an essential first step. Reuben and Gad built cities, not for their existing small children but to provide a future-looking culture for those children. The Levites didn’t possess the numbers to warrant 48 cities, but they were the guardians of a culture that placed worship of God at the center. Naturally they needed cities to help implant that outlook.
Conversely when enemies attack, they have always known that if they destroy the cultural heart of the country by eradicating the city, the rural farmlands will also cease to exist.
This Sunday, we observe the most mournful day of the Jewish calendar, the. This is the date around which almost every calamity inflicted upon the Jewish people throughout history is clustered. We tend to heave a heartfelt sigh of relief when the day passes each year. One of the calamities mourned is the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple on the 9th day of Av some twenty-five hundred years ago. On Sunday we shall read the book of Lamentations whose opening verse reads:
Oh how has the city [Jerusalem] that was once so populous become so lonely! She has become like a widow…(Lamentations 1:1)
We see that just as the happy new culture that would arise with the Jewish arrival in Israel needed cities built, so the tragic new culture heralded by the eviction of the Jews from Israel needed cities destroyed-starting with the capital city, Jerusalem.
The condition of American cities sheds considerable light on the health of the cultures of the states in which those cities are situated. It is not hard to see that Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix and Charlotte are in better shape than Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco and New York. The rural countryside can pretty much survive with without a God-centric culture. However, once cities go secular, there’s not much that can save them other than the fervent revival of the Biblical beliefs and values that built those cities in the first place.
I do enjoy the natural beauty to be found in the United States of America. But I am spiritually inspired and emotionally moved far more by the good people to be found maintaining and growing those still-healthy cities that I am privileged to visit and in which I am often blessed to appear and speak. I pray for that Biblical revival among America’s believers and the first sign of its success will be the return of our cities.